OPINION: CARRIE and JERRY SCHEID — Time to move the needle on workforce preparation

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Carrie: Happy 2020! It’s a great time to look ahead. It’s also a good time to examine previous goals.

Jerry: Any particular goals you have in mind?

Carrie: How about getting Idaho’s workforce ready for the 21st century? One area Idaho fell short was the goal of having 60 percent of young adults (25-34-year-olds) complete an associate’s or bachelor’s degree or technical certification like electrical or welding. This goal was originally adopted in 2010 by the State Board of Education, the Legislature and current and former governors.

Jerry: How did we do?

Carrie: For the past few years, it has remained flat at 42 percent. So … two years ago, they moved the 60 percent goal to 2025.

Jerry: Is that called the “go on” rate?

Carrie: No. The “go on” rate is the percent of public high school graduates who enroll in a college, university or technical training program. It doesn’t address whether they completed the program.

Jerry: What is Idaho’s “go on” rate?

Carrie: According to Cathleen McHugh, Chief Research Officer for the State Board of Education, 48% of 2018 public high school graduates went onto some kind of postsecondary program the following fall. In fact, from 2014-2018 the percentage has remained between 48 and 50 percent.

Jerry: What about private high schools or home school students who aren’t affiliated with a public school?

Carrie: They aren’t included because they don’t report their statistics to the State Board. A representative from “Homeschool Idaho,” a statewide organization, told me they don’t collect that data. But she thought their students had higher “go on” rates.

Jerry: So why are we concerned about the “go on” rate if the real goal is earning a credential, not simply enrolling in a program?

Carrie: Because the more students who go onto postsecondary education, the more likely Idaho will produce a technical workforce capable of earning a family wage.

Jerry: Speaking of credentials, what is Idaho’s high school graduation rate?

Carrie: That’s showing some improvement. For public high schools, it was 79.7% in 2016 and 81% in 2018. Again, we don’t have data for private schools or home schoolers not affiliated with a public school. Interestingly, rural schools tend to have higher high school graduation rates but lower “go on” rates.

Jerry: Why?

Carrie: There are several factors according to the Lumina Foundation which has studied this problem nationally. One is cultural. Because many parents of rural students made a living without a postsecondary credential, some are skeptical about the value of the investment.

Jerry: When you consider the cost of higher education nowadays, you can understand their concern.

Carrie: In addition, people in many rural communities live great distances from higher education facilities. Online classes are helping but rural communities often lack good broadband service to provide them.

Jerry: That’s a tough one.

Carrie: Getting back to the “go on” rate, here’s a more promising statistic. The Idaho “go on” rate three years after graduation increased to 63-64% for graduates of the classes of 2014 through 2016.

Jerry: That makes sense. After graduating, some students go into the military, some go on church missions and some take time off to earn money for college or evaluate their future.

Carrie: As you know, I’m a trustee of Idaho’s newest community college: College of Eastern Idaho (CEI). More than half of our degree/certificate students are over the age of 21. Community colleges have some of the lowest tuition in the state and offer a wide range of workforce programs such as health care, welding, information technology, cyber security, etc. Their employment placement rates are very high.

Jerry: Sounds like Idaho’s community colleges can help move the needle. Remember what Benjamin Franklin said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest!”

• • •

Jerry is a retired farmer/rancher and native Idahoan. Carrie is a retired nonprofit administrator.

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